Interview: Malabar River Festival Organizers
The 2018 edition of the Malabar River Festival, taking place from July 18-22nd in the Kerala Region of southern India, promises to be one of the year’s biggest whitewater events. We met with the organizers Jacopo Nordera and Manik Taneja to hear more about how the MRF has evolved from its original goal of promoting rivers in Southern India to attract the world‘s best paddlers, encourage kayaking whitewater locally, and to develop the sport across the Asian subcontinent.
Kayak Session: As organizers, what is the Malabar River Fest all about?
Manik Taneja: We started this festival to highlight some of the awesome rivers and terrain that Kerala has to offer. Before, we often heard that all the fun whitewater in India was limited to the Northern part of the country, near the Himalayas. The idea was to change this perception, and for locals to witness and appreciate the amazing rivers in their backyards. In short, this festival is about promoting the sport in this part of the world and getting more people involved so we have more people to paddle with.
Jacopo Nordera: It’s all about having fun and discovering the amazing whitewater of this part of the world, while getting to compete in different types of races. The festival provides an opportunity for foreign kayakers to get to know this region and showcases the beauty of this sport to the locals to motivate them to go shred.
KS: It sounds like there is a serious line up this year. Rumor has it that some of the top names from all over the world have already confirmed they are coming?
MT: Yeah seems like the rumor mills are working overtime on this one, though some of the best of the best have confirmed, so it isn’t all rumors!
KS: There is a big lure at the moment: a $20,000 cash prize. Is that for real?
MT: As real as you and me.
KS: But the MRF is more than a bunch of “pro” paddlers battling it out for a cash prize. What else is on the program this year?
MT: We have always envisioned the MRF to be more than a competition, which is why we use the word “festival.” We organize events such as freestyle, giant slalom, and downriver time trails, all of which happen on different sections and rivers to expose participants to as many different parts of the region as possible. This strategy also helps us reach locals all over the state of Kerala. In addition, we have an intermediate category so that not quite pro-paddlers can be a part of the competition and more importantly, come and hang out with their heroes. Even though the competition is as intense as any other in the world, the event’s underlying atmosphere is one of camaraderie, fun, and inclusivity. I believe this is what makes us different and what keeps participants coming back.
JN: We are definitely trying to raise the bar for the race this year, and with strong support from the Government and Kerala Tourism, we have an excellent opportunity to put on a big show that is fun for kayakers and spectators. We will have a race restricted to the top paddlers, but we are also trying to involve the intermediate paddlers as much as we can. Our goal is to give them a chance to paddle with and learn from the athletes coming to the festival. We always felt that to grow as kayakers we needed to meet stronger paddlers, and our dream is finally coming true-not just for us, but for the entire region.
KS: Exciting things are happening to develop the sport this year. The Serrasolses brothers will run a program; the ICF is jumping on board…
MT: I believe so! For the past few years, we (Goodwave Adventures) have been running programs for locals at every event. A lot of them have gone on to compete and win at the Malabar Festival and also take part in events around the country, such as the Kali Kayak Festival and the Megha River Festival. Some are now competing in the Pro category and looking for jobs as river guides. Just when I thought that it couldn’t get any better, I heard that the Serrasolses brothers want to run a program here. To get an opportunity to be trained by these guys is just, wow!! There are going to be a lot of kids interested, so we will need to figure out how to identify the most deserving. The Indian Kayak & Canoe Federation (IKCA) will also be sending a team, accompanied by ICF officials, to train and compete at the festival and we are looking forward to hosting them.
KS: What style of river can people expect?
JN: Paddling here is a combination of big water continuous rapids and low volume pool/drop, depending on the rains and on the section. Rivers in Kerala are generally creeky: granite riverbeds with boulder gardens, slides, and some waterfalls. The rivers descend from the Deccan plateau to the sea, losing considerable gradient in relatively short spans, providing options for class V, IV, III paddlers. The monsoon rains normally bless the region with good flows, especially in June-July, bringing in nice, big water runs. But, some of the steeper sections require less water, so there is almost always something to paddle. Plus, water temperatures are mild, which makes paddling very pleasant!
KS: For those who make the trip, what is the biggest attraction?
JN: Fun, fun fun! It’s going be a huge show, followed by a serious party. And then of course, the real after-party! The Malabar area offers a circuit of 8-10 great rivers to paddle, and South Kerala has some classic descents too. There is also enormous potential for exploratory trips, even though some rivers might be in restricted (permitted) areas and will require some planning.
Watch last year’s video report
Check Mike Dawson Video report from his last visit.